By Paul Schott

pschott@bcnnew.com

In the face of a nationwide surge by Republicans, Westport stood out as an exception to that tide in Tuesday's voting, with Jonathan Steinberg defeating Nitzy Cohen in the race for state representative in the open 136th District.

"I'm numbed, but I'm thrilled," Steinberg told the Westport News after unofficial election results were announced. "It's an honor to have the chance to represent Westport in the state Assembly."

Steinberg took 5,508 votes, or 54 percent of all ballots cast, in the five voting districts in the legislative district. Cohen took 4,715 votes, 46 percent.

The contest featured two well-known Westport figures in Steinberg and Cohen. The former is the current deputy moderator of the Representative Town Meeting, while the latter previously ran for state representative in 2008 against the outgoing Democratic incumbent, Joe Mioli.

"Jonathan ran an incredibly cohesive campaign," said Westport's Democratic Town Committee Chairman Jim Ezzes. "If you have that one-on-one personal contact with voters like he did, you're going to win."

Local Democratic reaction to Steinberg's victory was enthusiastic, but not overtly jubilant. Following the news, Steinberg and several friends and Democratic colleagues went to the Black Duck Café to celebrate.

"I think Jonathan won because he's a Westporter. He's not a transplant. People know him," said Billy Senia, a friend who joined Steinberg at the Black Duck.

By contrast, the Republican response to Cohen's defeat, and a generally disappointing GOP performance across the board in Westport was somber. While scores of supporters were on hand at the Republican Town Committee headquarters at Old Town Hall early in the evening, the venue quickly emptied out when Cohen's defeat was sealed.

Tim Wetmore, vice chairman of the Westport Republican Town Committee, was one of those who remained at Old Town Hall to watch the election returns reported from around the country.

"I'm obviously very disappointed with the outcome," he said of Cohen's loss. He added that her defeat could partly be explained by the advantage Westport Democrats have among party-affiliated voters.

Cohen later visited GOP headquarters to thank supporters after she conceded in person to Steinberg.

"I told him that I hoped that he would do the right thing, and not just the political thing," she said.

Reflecting on why she did not win, Cohen told the Westport News: "My campaign was based on reality. Westport is not ready for reality."